As parents, we always want the best for our little ones. If you have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you’ve probably heard about applied behavioral analysis therapy or ABA therapy.
Many experts consider ABA as the current gold standard for the treatment of ASD. The US Surgeon General endorsed ABA, citing its efficacy backed by thirty years of research. It’s also approved by medical associations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Neurology.
But ABA also has its share of controversy. Criticisms leveled against ABA include being too tough on kids and trying to make the children “neurotypical.”
Is ABA right for your child? Here’s a quick guide on ABA so you can make an informed decision.
What Is Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy?
As a kid, have you ever been put in a time-out? If so, your parents employed a form of ABA to correct what they perceive as misbehavior on your part.
ABA isn’t a specific therapy itself but a range of strategies and techniques for understanding and changing behavior. There are three key components of applied behavioral analysis known as the ABCs.
- Antecedent: the initial action or situation
- Behavior: the reaction in response to the antecedent
- Consequence: the reinforcement mechanism, which can be positive, negative, or neutral
ABA therapists study all the ABCs in play to figure out two things. First, why is a particular behavior happening? Second, how can different consequences influence the prospect of the behavior happening again?
As an example, let’s look at how Dr. Montrose Wolf came up with the “time-out” strategy for his patient Dicky. Dicky was a three-year-old boy with autism who displayed temper tantrums.
Dr. Wolf understood that the tantrums were being reinforced by drawing adult attention. He came up with the time-out as the “consequence.” It deprived the child of attention while still being an effective response.
ABA can be used to teach self-care, communication, social, and play skills. It can also minimize problematic behavior such as throwing a tantrum, inattentiveness. etc.
What’s Involved in an ABA Program?
Good ABA programs use a targeted approach to meet the needs of an individual. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why the initial step is making consistent and meticulous observation of the child in their natural environment.
They study the relationship of the As and Bs so they can come up with the proper Cs. There are different techniques of ABA being employed today. These include Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), and Token Economies.
You can research online for more information on the advantages of ABA. Examples include individualized assessment and early intervention.
What About the Controversy?
Is ABA cruel or too demanding? In previous decades, 40 hours of therapy a week is considered typical, but this isn’t the case today. 10 to 20 hours of therapy per week is now the average.
Before, a therapy session is mostly just the child sitting at a desk, but now, most modern programs are play-based. ABA is also embracing the concept of neurodiversity and moving away from trying to make kids “normal.”
Is ABA Right for Your Kid?
Applied behavioral analysis therapy has produced and continues to produce good results. It has evidence-based and scientifically proven merits backing it up. Of course, you should still consider how your child responds to the therapy and the therapist.
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